Creative Work Fund

Creative Work Fund/Walter and Elise Haas Fund

Funding Received: 2011
Multiple, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
April 20, 2012

The Creative Work Fund supports artists collaborating with nonprofit organizations to create new works, and ArtPlace funding will make possible four grants—to be awarded in June—that focus on collaboration and creative placemaking. In the meantime, Frances Phillips of the Creative Work Fund is bringing us stories of previously supported Creative Work Fund projects that focused on place and community building:

The first thing you notice when Rob Keller opens the door to the repurposed Airstream trailer that’s the Honeybee Ecology Educator on Wheels is the odor: it’s wood in a warm attic combined with dried flowers and caramel. He unhinges two wooden panels covering the work’s centerpiece and its surface shimmers. He inserted a local bee colony into the trailer’s observation hive on March 7. They’ve steadily expanded in the space and they and their work are beautiful—glistening amber and sable browns alongside bone-pale wax structures.

Healthy bee colonies are essential to an agricultural valley’s well-being. Keller embarked on his Creative Work Fund project to spread a message about protecting Napa’s honeybees.

There’s a growing interest in apiaries among gardeners, farmers, and restaurateurs and the demand has led to the importing of bees—some of them aggressive and a threat to local bees. As in other places, Napa Valley is seeing bee colonies collapse—disease, genetically modified crops, and pollution all are factors. Keller’s recommendation—conveyed through the Honeybee Ecology Trailer and his many classes and lectures—is, “Let’s deal only with our indigenous stock. If we dilute our indigenous stock, we dilute their resistance.” In addition to the painstaking cultivation of strong indigenous bee strains, Keller talks to vintners about putting in orchards and gardens to diversify the forage available to Napa bees.

As for creating the trailer, he reports, “It has been crazy in a fabulous way.” The Farm to Table movement has fed enthusiasm for beekeeping, but the world’s largest mobile observation beehive has focused the sustainable food conversation on a distinct, important message. And Keller’s filled with stories of taking the trailer to fairs and festivals where it has been mobbed by enthusiasts—hosting 1,000 or 1,500 people per day. Watching the bees is mesmerizing. He laughs, “Sometimes I cannot get the people out of the trailer.”

Bee advising and beekeeping have taken over much of Keller’s life: he bicycles up and down the valley, attending to hives, teaching, and moving swarms. Through a project that’s all about protecting the particularities of place, he has grown a small business, keeping close at hand a crew of ten or so “honeybee homies.” When I ask for his recommendations for others, Keller emphasizes the importance of “the local” in all dimensions of one’s work, including hiring locally. He brought in a retired union carpenter to help build the hive case and has continued working with him. And what moves him most is building a collective effort—among the bees themselves and with the people of Napa Valley, to get everyone behind protecting healthy local colonies for the common good.